Humanist and secularist organizations have accused the European Union of denying them equal treatment compared to the continent's Christian churches - writes Jonathan Luxmoore for RNS and ENI.
"The EU shouldn't be holding a dialogue with essentially undemocratic organisations," said David Pollock, president of the Brussels-based European Humanist Federation.
"By engaging with the Roman Catholic Church, it's giving a privileged position in EU councils to a body which doesn't represent its members and holds views way off the margin of general European opinion," he said.
Pollock, a British humanist, was speaking ahead of the first 'dialogue seminar' between humanists and EU officials under the EU's 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which commits EU leaders to maintain a dialogue with both religious and non-religious groups.
In an ENInews interview, Pollock said secularists planned to use the seminar to show how non-religious citizens were "treated as inferior and sinful" and denied jobs and services.
Church leaders, however, reject the charges and say churches are "contributing to European integration in a democratic, transparent way."
"We have the same opportunities for promoting ideas as the humanists," said Johanna Touzel, French spokesman for the Commission of European Bishops Conferences. "The difference is that the churches use this tool to organise a fruitful dialogue, and have something to say and offer on challenges facing the EU."
EU officials hold an annual summit with Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives, and held their third annual summit with humanist and secularist organisations last November.
"If the EU wants a fair, equal dialogue with its citizens, it should even give us a privileged position," Pollock said, "since we operate on a voluntary basis and generally receive no taxpayer support."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]